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Fantasia 2023: Vincent Must Die is A Post-Covid Crazies For An Anxious Age

Image Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

If you’ve ever had one of those days where it seems like everyone is out to get you, wait until you meet Vincent Borel (Karim Leklou). While working in his graphic design office one day, Vincent becomes the target of an intern’s wrath. Vincent thinks nothing of it, having condescendingly undermined the intern’s job in a meeting and possibly considering the event as karmic retribution. Until it happens the next day with another colleague devolving into viciousness, stabbing Vincent’s hand repeatedly with a pen. It isn’t long before Vincent becomes the subject of many people’s ire. One look from Vincent and they all become afflicted with one main purpose: Vincent Must Die (Vincent doit mourir). 

Left with no other choice, Vincent is made to take a sabbatical from work and, after several additional attacks on his life in the city from beggars, road ragers, and even the children in his building’s stairwell, he begins to scientifically discern the cause of their violent behavior. Vincent then befriends a vagrant, Joaquim (Michaël Perez), who recognizes his affliction and alerts him to an underground website of others like him where he can find answers. Joaquim tells Vincent to hightail it out of the city for the less populated countryside, buy a dog who can smell the violent eruptions rising in other people, and prepare to never talk to anyone again.  

Premiering at Cannes back in May, director Stéphan Castang’s Vincent Must Die presents itself as a zombie-like infection film with the disease affecting the victim rather than the violent majority prone to madness satire it is. The film’s central theme is trust and civility, and it speaks volumes through a post-covid gaze. An Implied line has always existed based on the golden “do unto others” rule, but after seeing how obstinate people can be when asked to comply with a mask mandate, one has to wonder, what if others are trying to harm you? 

Writer Mathieu Naert injects Vincent Must Die with a vast collection of philosophical conversations, from what is justified when your life is threatened and what we’re willing to do when the lives of people we care about become affected. When Vincent meets Margaux (Vimala Pons), his focus shifts to what is possible beyond the limitations of his diagnosis. The idea that everyone needs love shines through, even those souls that society has abandoned for their untoward behavior. 

A man stares at a woman in the back seat through his rearview mirror in Vincent Must Die.
Image Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

Because Castang’s film explores a strange romance, it also deals with a hefty amount of isolation factors that suggest the distrust covid instilled in relationships. The handcuffs the couple use for Vincent to protect himself from Margaux’s outbursts of violence are particularly symbolic. When Margaux chooses to wear the handcuffs, not unlike a mask, she’s entering a social contract of trust, and that becomes the linchpin idea in the film. If you consider that the virus infected many around the globe, brought it home to their loved ones, and survived the disease while those around them didn’t, you understand the heavy burden borne by the grieving as they try to recover. Rising to the surface despite the violent tendencies and dystopian chaos is also a concept of forgiveness and repentance in those relationships.

Providing the parallax viewpoint of our current society, not unlike last night’s Fantasia film Blackout, Vincent Must Die is a little more taken by the pressures of a neurotic society, though more prone to antagonist distrust, and perhaps bordering on the trivial sense of ganging up on someone for causing offense. Beginning the film with his eye-rolling comments to the intern, the intern’s response far outweighs the crime. The disproportion response rises to Romero’s Crazies level after Vincent leaves the city, as the film mimics the horror maestro’s tempo in the unrestricted spreading of the disease, the likes of which seem solely focused on Vincent in the countryside.  

There are a lot of ways Vincent Must Die could have gone. At one point, I considered it may take a left turn and fall into the ambiguity of 2018’s Mom and Dad, where two tired parents may or may not be infected with a disease where parents brutally murder their children. While Vincent Must Die stays away from the ambiguity of the condition, it perpetuates that sentiment of violence originating from loved ones. Regardless of that or The Crazies’ inspiration the film perpetuates, Vincent Must Die feels wholly original and a fitting entry onto the list of zombie-adjacent movies that share its socio-political commentary.  

From a technical perspective, Castang’s direction looks effortless. Leklou and Pons are dynamic and worthy of rooting for as they try to escape the mayhem. The cinematography blends the night vibes of a noir with a persistent daytime atmosphere that inferences impending doom, like a lightly cold color palette suggesting an overcast of dread. Vincent Must Die also has one of the best opening title sequences I’ve seen in a long time: a bumping synth score over a very artistic color sequence that grows increasingly intense before settling down and pulling away to reveal a computer program.
Vincent Must Die is a well-crafted film intuitively conceived and crafted by an international director worth keeping an eye on. Stéphan Castang’s debut is an enthralling, sometimes comedic look at the absurdity of the last few years, trying to leave a calamity behind us only to have it find us again. It’s an engaging offering that may falter once or twice while needing to keep the pace up better, but a nitpick from an otherwise excellent horror film.  

Vincent Must Die screened at Fantasia International Film Festival on July 21. It is currently touring the festival circuit. The film has been purchased for US release though a release date has not been set.

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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